Captain Review: a Sprint review that everyone loves


I got the opportunity to attend an offsite event organized by a client. We learned and shared our experiences, our problems, with the motive of finding a way to work more effectively together, be it technical or process related.There were posters of superhero movies with our faces morphed on it. There was so much energy from the start till the end of the event. We had meals together. We played chess, football, quizzes and what not. The talks were meticulously planned and picked for our group. Wonderful sessions! And I would like to share my experience for one of the agile sessions here.

One of the first tracks I attended was about Captain Review! The goal was to talk about how you can have an effective review and have fun doing it. Our scrum coach, Jill Janssen gave us the intro. We discussed the importance of review and what should you look for in a feedback. She talked briefly about the elements of a good review:-

  • Done – Overview what will and will not be demonstrated, taking note of those things that are complete but won’t be demoed.
  • Not done – Explain the reasons for the incomplete items, but save the improvement discussion for the Sprint Retrospective.
  • Demo – Demo only new/changed functionality, beware of ad hoc demo requests.
  • Feedback – Obtain feedback, which will be discussed in detail.
    • Mention key occurrences, events, or problems from the sprint.
  • Refinement – Refine, adjust, and review product backlog based on feedback.

It was an eye opener to know about a few signs of an ineffective Sprint review (and their solutions)

  1. Team does not request feedback from participants/stakeholders
    1. Prepare the sprint review to maximize feedback
    2. Ask engaging questions to the audience
    3. Leave enough time after each item to discuss it while the information is fresh.
  1. Team reports to management to sign off on the increment
    1. The key participants are the team, product owner and stakeholders, not management.
    2. There is nothing wrong with management reports, but they are not the purpose of the Sprint Review.
    3. Signoff comes from the Product Owner.

Since this session was focussed on getting a feedback, we played a little game where a volunteer took a seat in front of the other participants and was asked to throw a couple of balls, one by one in a box behind him. This box was not directly behind him and he didn’t know how far or to which side of him, was it placed. Also, the audience was not allowed to give any hints. Obviously, without a feedback when blindly throwing balls into the box, there was no success. In the next round, Jill allowed the audience to give cues. The brave volunteer had more success in landing the balls in the box with a proper feedback. This demonstrated how important is feedback. And how can we achieve more when we keep the communication lines open and regular. Later, we played another game where we were offered a few products, for which we had to do a review with the group. The group was divided into 5 and were given a choice of products to do review session for. To choose from, there was a pack of pencils, sticky notes, socks with anti-slip patches, chocolates and more. I was happy that my group member got us a pair of anti-slip socks. My love for yoga sprung up as soon as I saw the product and a plan for the demo and feedback started coming to me. We brainstormed over a few ideas for 5-10 minutes and had a wonderful plan. To elaborate on the exercise – We had to sell an additional feature on the product. It was the usual drill – Intro, demo and a feedback. After this, we had to gather feedback for the whole group. A few of the suggestions to gather feedback were: –

  • Post-its: Let stakeholders write down the answers to a question on post-it notes. Limit the answer to one per post-it note. Let all stakeholders write down their answers first without revealing them to others. Depending on the question asked, this can take 2 to 5 minutes.
  • Shout outs: Ask stakeholders to shout out their answer, one after another. You can limit the number of shout-outs you’ll collect. Take notes on a flip chart.
  • Message Me: Let stakeholders write down their answers in silence. Depending on the time available, let them write it down in format of a letter (long), email (a couple of lines), social media update (rather short), or tweet (short; 140 character).
  • High Five: Let stakeholders find their answer in silence. Let them show that they’ve found their answer by putting a fist on their chest. Then count down “3, 2, 1, now!” On “now!” the stakeholders should hold up 0 to 5 fingers with one hand. For every stakeholder, shout out their answer. Note the result on a flip chart or whiteboard, e.g., 1 x 3 fingers, 4 x 4 fingers, and 2 x 5 fingers.
    • Follow-up Investigation: Ask each stakeholder why they gave their answer. Or ask only the stakeholders with the lowest and highest amount of presented fingers.
    • Follow-up Debate: Ask the stakeholders with low finger answers to pair with the ones with high-finger answers. Let the pairs debate their different views for a couple of minutes. Afterwards, let the pair shout out a summary of their debate.
  • Thumbs Up: Let stakeholders give their answer by showing their thumbs in 3 directions: thumb up (positive), thumb to the side (neutral; undecided; meh.), thumb down (negative).
    • Follow-up Investigation: Ask each stakeholder or only the ones you are interested in (for example, only the negative or undecided ones) why they gave their answer.

We had some fun coming up with features. One was low fat chocolate. Of course, we were given a demo, or you can say bribed. And we got to eat the chocolates! Also, the feedback loop became very interesting with the happy group of people in the session. Everyone enjoyed giving feedback like – “The white color pencil does not work on the white sticky note. Maybe you guys should collaborate on making this work.” We were having quite some fun, which helped me maintain focus on the conversation. I grabbed the opportunity to take my turn after the chocolates team were done with their review. My pitch was – after we were done eating those delicious chocolates, we still should make sure that we have burned whatever fat we consumed. In the Netherlands, anyways, fitness is serious business. You have been using our cotton socks happily so far. At this time, I had the sock on display with the anti-slip part showing. I flipped the sock, and announced, we have added a new feature to our existing successful product, for the yoga and Pilates enthusiasts with anti-slip patches. I have one on my foot, and I will show you how much I trust it. I donned a simple yoga pose and claimed that I could hold it until the end of the review. <Applause> I must shamelessly state that it was the best demo so far. Meanwhile, I said, let me run a fresh sock around. You can put your hand in and check the grip on the table. Its clean, never worn and just out of the package. While people were testing it out, I started taking questions. Remember, I was on my one foot. I needed to make it short 😉 The group asked me why it was so heavy. In their opinion it should have been lighter. After all, it is for exercise. At this point, I had to think on my feet errr… foot. But I understood that this will take longer. So, I slipped my foot back on the ground without anyone noticing the flaw in the demo(J) and I replied – This is for grounding you. Remember this is not for running, but for more grounding forms of exercises. So, it’s not a bug, but a feature. <Laughter> Another query I got, was about the durability. Can I toss it in washing machine and up to how many times? To this, I came up with an explanation that our team does not discontinue with existing features or replaces features. We have continued the existing capability and you can still wash them every day for 100 times. Although I am not sure if you will be able to keep up with exercise every day for 3 continuous months. J <Laughter> When the demo product came back to our table, I asked the people to vote with thumbs up/down. I had a quick look around, and everyone had good feedback. There was only one person who had a horizontal thumb (neither satisfied nor dissatisfied). I claimed that it’s a winner feature for all. And pointed out to that person – You sir! I think you just want to know about my yoga classes. Don’t you? Concluded the best review I ever had with applause and laughter. It was really fun experience and I thank our coach and the host for the wonderful exercise. I am all invigorated to make the reviews with my team at work more fun and engaging. P.S.: – The socks are really nice. I am keeping them.